WSN loses a dozen players for two games

Published 8:54pm Thursday, September 13, 2012

The W.S. Neal Eagle football team will be without 12 players for the next two Fridays after the Alabama High School Athletic Association handed down penalties associated with an incident in their game last week at Straughn.

W.S. Neal Head Coach Doug Hoehn said the decision made by AHSAA officials was revealed in a Wednesday meeting in Montgomery.

“Myself and Mrs. Frazier, along with Straughn’s principal Mr. Driver and their coach, Coach Taylor, met with the Alabama High School Athletic Association Wednesday to find out what our ruling was from the association about last Friday night,” Hoehn said. “W.S. Neal supplied all the films they had and The Brewton Standard supplied all pictures they had. A parent from Straughn was filming the game from the stands. So based on that material, the association identified players that came on the field.”

Hoehn said a National High School Federation rule states if a player leaves the bench and goes onto the field when they are not actually on the field of play for any reason, whether one yard or 30 yards out, the player is ejected from the game.

“The Alabama High School Athletic Association augments that rule by saying that if you leave your sidelines, you are ejected from the game,” Hoehn said. “Of course, following the National Federation’s rules, in addition, you have a two-game suspension. The association identified 12 W.S. Neal players, at some form or fashion whether it be one yard off the sideline or 10 yards off the sidelines, were on the field of play. As a result, we have 12 football players that will not be playing football for the next two weeks.”

Hoehn said rules require that names of those eject cannot be mentioned.

“We are disappointed in this as a school and as an administration,” Hoehn said. “Our kids are disappointed in their mistakes. There is nothing good you can say about it. However, after reviewing the evidence from all the films, clearly Steve Savarese came to the same opinion, W.S. Neal and Straughn came to the same opinion, there was no fighting that occurred. There was not a single punch thrown. There was not actual fighting that occurred between the Neal and Straughn players. It was on a kickoff and what we had was one Neal and one Straughn player had contact after the whistle and it was football-related contact. There was no fighting-related contact. Both the Straughn side and the Neal side, the kids when told to get back, they did so immediately. I was out on the field and did not have one Neal or Straughn player challenge my statements to them to step off the field of play.”

Hoehn said the incident last week was unfortunate and one of which is he is not proud.

“At the same time, I think kids on both teams realized the mistakes that were made,” he said. “I think the staff for both schools did a great job of getting our there quick and making sure it did not go any further. Seven Straughn players were identified. The angle of the film was shot in the stands so the angle of the film clearly shows the Neal sideline. However it did capture seven of the Straughn kids in addition to the 12 Neal kids.”

Hoehn said he thinks a video from a higher vantage point could have given a clearer picture.

“I knew when I went out there, contrary to rumors being heard, I knew it was nowhere near benches being emptied,” he said. “I was the first one out there. Could there have been a couple of kids missed? Yes. The numbers were not going to be a lot more than that and the numbers that would have been missed would have not been on the field very far at all. That is another reason why the camera did not capture them. You could clearly see our sideline from that angle and it really did not pick up their sideline until 5 or 7 yards out onto the field.”

So what does this mean for the Eagles this week at Cottage Hill and at home next week against Southside-Selma?

“We are without 12 players,” Hoehn said. “When you miss one player, you are concerned. When you have two or three out due to injury, you are really concerned and sometimes it changes what you do and sometimes you have to adjust offensively and defensively. When you have 12 out, you are looking at a big challenge.”

Although this is a first for Hoehn, he said he has a plan for such an incident that happened Friday in Straughn.

“We try to go into the season with a plan of action of any possible situation that would occur,” he said. “This is my first time I have ever had kids leave the sideline. I have been part of games that other teams have left. What we do here is two coaches are identified and that would be myself and our assistant head coach Dan Polon. We would go on the field and our assistant coaches are to take two to three steps on the field and turn to the bench and prevent any of our players from entering the field. We are going to make sure we get better at that. We just have to make sure they don’t get on the field one or two yards because if they do, they fall under that rule. A rule is a rule and we have to abide by those rules. Even if they are 30 or 40 yards away from the incident, they never get close. If we know they are on the field, they know they are going to get dealt with. That is our plan of action and we just have to make sure that when we are watching the sideline, no one crosses that white line.”

While the rule has an impact for the next two games, Hoehn said he understands rules are there for a reason.

“Society has rules and sports have rules and that is what governs us,” Hoehn said. “We all have to abide by them. Sometimes you get caught up in them where there are different levels of degrees of how much you violate them The main gist of this rule is the safety of the kids. This is high school sports and this has to be paramount. In addition to the safety of these kids is sportsmanship. These are high school kids and it is our job to keep them safe and teach them sportsmanship. Sometimes lessons are tough learned and we are hoping we can grow from this as a team and as a program. No one feels worse than the kids that stepped onto the field.”

Hoehn said explained the AHSAA decision to the players before Wednesday’s practice.

“The kids are clearly disappointed,” he said. “No one wants to miss a football game, much less two. We tried to take the time to explain to them and use it as a teaching moment. Hopefully some good would comes out of this with the challenges they face in life whether it be a ruling – no matter what it pertains to. Hopefully they will understand that if you only break it by one percent and abide by it 99 percent, there will still be consequences. We have good kids in this program and they have come a long way since I have been here. They have really progressed and done everything we have asked them to do and I am proud of them. They are competitors and they want to play. We had to explain to them the reason they could not play.”

The rule passed down to W.S. Neal and Straughn falls under section 18 under the AHSAA rules.

“Our 12 kids suspended fall under that rule,” he said. “That rule says we have a two-game suspension for anyone being ejected from the game for coming off the bench. That rules carries a $300 fine for each player. The AHSAA has determined how schools handle this—how forthcoming they are with information, how they handled the situation when it occurred, if the school cooperated after the investigation, if they handled it on their own with additional punishment or other things—the AHSAA determines the fine.”

Because W.S. Neal cooperated with the AHSAA, Hoehn said the fine was lowered.

“They determined we took a good path to stop the situation and that W.S. Neal cooperated with the investigation and brought forth materials,” he said. “When they asked us what we were going to do with our kids, after they read our plans that we were going to take with our kids, they were satisfied and reduced our fine from $300 a kid to $100 a kid for a total of $1,200. In addition to the fine per kid, as an institution you are fined per incident. The fine for the incident was $500. Again, they reduced it because I submitted a plan and we are going to have some mentoring here and have folks talk to our kids about obeying rules, sportsmanship and consequences. They lowered our fine to $300. That comes out of the school’s athletic budget.”

Straughn coach Trent Taylor told The Star-News in Andalusia Wednesday afternoon that seven of his Tigers were suspended.

With 3.6 seconds left in the third quarter of last Friday night’s game and Straughn leading 36-14, an altercation arose between players from both teams, which was quickly dispelled by team coaches and support staff.

SHS head football coach Trent Taylor and principal, Shannon Driver, met with AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese Wednesday to learn of the team’s suspensions. W.S. Neal head football coach Doug Hoehn and principal Patty Frazier were at the meeting as well.

Taylor wanted to be clear that there wasn’t any fighting on the field.

“That’s one thing coach Savarese said (Wednesday),” Taylor said. “(Saverese) said he keeps hearing the word ‘fight.’ There was no fight. I’ve only been in five or six in my life and I’ve not been in a fight where I didn’t try to punch somebody or somebody was steadily punching me. There were never any punches thrown. So, I don’t think we can fairly say there was a fight.”

Taylor said on the night of the game, there were five of his players ejected from the game. From video evidence, the number increased to seven because there were two players the officials didn’t see, he said.

“Obviously, they were two that didn’t get very far out there (on the field),” Taylor said. “They (W.S. Neal) had many, many more (on the field).”

Taylor added that it was “unfortunate” for those players on the Eagles’ football team who were also caught in that situation.

When asked who were ejected from the game are, Taylor wouldn’t give any names. He said, “they know who they are.”

Previously, The Star-News reported that Chase Short was ejected from the game, but Taylor said Wednesday that Short was not among the seven players suspended.

Short was on the kickoff team and Taylor said — from his version of events — his kicker and quarterback did everything “he could to avoid the situation.”

“They had cross-blocked all night long,” Taylor said. “To me, it looked like it was obvious the ball was in the end zone when it came of off his foot. They sent somebody at him hard and maybe the kid was frustrated about the way the game was going. He went to block him, which was fine the first time and Chase kind of defended himself and put his hand up. He came at him a third time and on the fourth time, Chase ducked and flipped him.

“I’m sure if I’m on their sideline and I’m oblivious, all I do is look and see ‘thwp,’” he said. “You know, if one of my guys is getting flipped, I’m going to react.”

Taylor said the seven who are suspended for two games this season are “disappointed.”

“Heck, I want them to be,” he said. “They want to play. I guess, if there’s an unfortunate thing about it, only one of them is a senior .It was just one of those things. Football is a very violent game and when you’ve got that, then you expect kids to play with a violent nature. That’s the nature of the game. I think sometimes when that happens, then there’s going to be some things that happen because of that.”

Taylor said the players are still focused on the task at hand as they visit Southside-Selma tomorrow night in region action.

“I think our kids are focused,” he said. “These other kids, they’re very disappointed and they’re very sorry for what happened. In the heat of the moment, sometimes kids are going to do things, just like adults would do. If we had just paused just for a second to think, we wouldn’t have done it. But, unfortunately, they did and nobody is more remorseful then those seven kids.

“Probably, to be honest, I should’ve done a better job of explaining to them the repercussions of something like that,” he said. “If there’s a message to all of those other coaches is that to make sure that your kids are aware (of the rules).”

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